2016 Jaguar XE first drive review
Jaguar has for decades been looked upon as a very niche player and it has been hoping to change that image, to be more accessible and to find more acceptance. It's not an easy task especially when your product portfolio does not support those aspirations. Finally though, the brand with the leaping cat has an all new car that can reach out to a wider audience. It's called the XE and it's the smallest sedan it has ever manufactured to date. The XE is also on its way to India but for it to put up any sort of competition to the other cars in the segment such as the Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, it had better be something special. It will have to be priced competitively without commanding the premium that Jaguars do now. That means Jaguar India will need to manufacture the car in India to make it competitive. Jaguar will also need a larger network to reach out to more customers and provide better ownership value. Looks like the roadblocks to a success story for the XE are many. All that however is in the future. Right now I've just got back from the Basque region of Bilbao in Spain after having driven the XE with a few questions that needed answers.
Is it good looking?
That it definitely is. The XE is a handsome car and I don't like it! Actually I don't like the fact that it looks incredibly similar to its older sibling, the XF. Other than that grouse which I just had to get out of my system, this car has bleeding good looks from every panel, every kink, sweep and straight line. It's finely muscled, taut and lean - athletic would be a good word to describe it. From the bulge on the hood to the big hexagonal mesh grille to the growler sitting in the middle of this grille, the XE is a striking car that I believe is the best looking in the segment. The way it looks is not going to polarise opinion.
All of the XE's profiles are arresting with excellent proportions and clean, neat detailing. The XE has a very low coefficient of 0.26Cd, the lowest in the range. The new XF will be the next Jaguar to have the same slippery profile sharing the same Cd values.
Various variants add levels of jewellery to further enhance the XE's striking good looks. So the XE S for instance gets blacked out side skirts which make the wheel arches and flanks appear more pronounced and muscular. The R-Sport on the other hand gets a muscular front bumper with a chrome strip running across the side vents to give it sharper definition. It's all lipstick and mascara but they do their bit to highlight the car, each layer adding a stronger definition to the XE.
Do the XE interiors complement the exteriors?
In a way, the inside of the car definitely stays in step with the outside. The balanced proportions, clean, strong and well defined detailing on the outside is continued inside the Jaguar XE as well. It's certainly a cabin I don't mind being enveloped in. The dashboard, however, isn't minimalistic. There's a battery of buttons and dials and various things you press and twist but they are all placed intuitively enough for you to not scramble around trying to find what you need. I do wish, however, there was a slightly more minimalistic approach to the XE interiors given that's the in thing these days with sister brand Land Rover. Piano black inserts in the centre console spruce up the dashboard but I'm not a big fan of this material since it's prone to collecting dust, grime and fingerprints.
Standard trim is black leather but you can choose several options to brighten up the cabin. A significant highlight is the wrap-around effect given to the dashboard. A large crease that begins from one door continues around the dashboard and ends up on the opposite door. It's a signature touch to the XE and looks quite interesting but I do think in certain climatic conditions, the sharp crease on the door will be a bit of a bother, since it's capable of collecting water if the doors are opened during a heavy monsoon shower.
In Dynamic mode, an LED around the dials glows red - otherwise it has a dull blue burnish to it. The steering wheel design is similar to the F-Type or even the XF. A significant revision to the cabin is that the gimmicky air con vents, which opened up on either side of the centre display when the ignition was switched on, have been taken out and replaced with a more conventional layout. However, the side vents, placed lower than in most cars and whose thick chrome bezels protrude out of the dashboard, might bang into your knee while trying to step into the XE. I've seen it happen to two people on the same day and I do believe Jaguar might have a problem with this design.
So it's good looking, but is it also practical?
Within reason yes, the XE is a practical car, the interiors are spacious thanks to a long wheelbase and the wheels placed as close to the edges of this car as possible. This means you get a spacious cabin, though I do think the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is the benchmark here. There is enough knee room and decent space for rear seat passengers in the Jaguar XE but this car was primarily designed as a driver's car so most of the space benefits are to be enjoyed by the driver and co-passenger. The door panels also have a unique three deck appearance with the wrap-around crease forming the top most deck, below which sits a deck where the window control buttons are placed and another deck below that which houses the seat memory functions and door unlock buttons. It's an interesting design but unnecessary, the exclusion of which could have led to a more spacious door pocket.
The biggest surprise is the deep and wide boot. You get 455 litres in that boot without a spare which drops to 450 litres with the spare strapped in. This also means the spare wheel is a space saver that will be placed in the central boot area which will disturb the way you can place luggage inside the boot.
And does it have enough goodies to make a younger audience sit up and take notice?
The XE is loaded to the gills with all the stuff that iOS and Android users love to death. It's got something called iConnect that, at its simplest level, is a contemporary infotainment system. However, dial in a few more chips and bright chaps at Jaguar's tech division and what you get is an infotainment system that can do a lot more than just play music or behave as a navigation tool. It allows users to connect their smartphones to allow apps to be accessed on the system. It can be used as a Wifi hotspot or you could also access the car through a remote application on your phone. So pre-cool or pre-heat your car, lock, unlock, remote access data fields from the ECU and there's tons more stuff being developed in Jaguar's labs for the future.
Appearances can be deceptive - is the power train as energetic and enticing as the design?
The XE has three engines with five states of tune to choose from. There is the brand new four-cylinder Ingenium diesel available in two states of tune. There is a four-cylinder turbocharged petrol which is already available in the XF and the XJ, in two states of tune. And then there is the flagship 3.0-litre supercharged V6 borrowed from the F-Type and which is available only with the XE S variant.
I drove three of these, the more powerful diesel and petrol four-cylinders and the V6. Of these, my pick would be the 2-litre petrol with 240PS of max power. This direct injection turbocharged petrol engine is refined but punchy and aggressive to give Audi or Mercedes a run for their money. I wouldn't be surprised if the XE with this engine is quicker in acceleration runs compared to the competition. Power delivery is quite linear, so while acceleration is built rapidly, it's never jumpy or rushed.
But is the four-cylinder diesel any good in a smaller car?
Now the more popular choice of engine with the XE in India might be the diesel, the four-cylinder Ingenium with 180PS on tap. It's a sturdy workhorse with around 380Nm of torque on offer, making it fairly linear and very progressive to drive in any condition.
The Ingenium technologies will initially be offered only on the diesel engines but will soon be making their way to the petrol mills too.
There were a lot of questions raised about this particular engine's refinement and the NVH levels in the cabin during the initial prototype drives, but Jaguar has addressed all these issues. A bit of tweaking through the ECU and stronger sound deadening materials in more places have reduced engine clatter in the cabin. It's not entirely absent - you can still feel the engine at work ahead of the firewall but it's subdued to comfortable levels. Comparatively, most other cars in this segment are just as noisy as the XE so the XE wouldn't lose any points here.
What this engine isn't is punchy - you won't feel the surge of torque but delivery is progressive slowly building its way through the rev band until it hits its 5,000rpm redline. Coupled to the 8-speed automatic transmission amplifies that sense of lethargy but in reality, if you see the spec sheet, then Jaguar's claims of a 0-100kmph in a flat 7.8 seconds is quite impressive.
But Jaguar's Achilles heel has always been the handling. Good looking car with big powerful engine but push it hard and you know things won't feel so inspiring?
Not any longer. The new XE is built on a whole new platform which incorporates around 75 per cent aluminium. This all new platform also forms the basis of future cars, primarily the new XF and the F-Pace that will follow. The significant use of aluminium makes it lighter - kerb weight is now at 1,608 kilos which is comparable to anything else in the segment. However, on the flip side this might also make it expensive considering how working with the metal is an expensive process, not to mention an expensive ownership proposition as well if any repairs creep into the picture.
Nonetheless, there are the steel bits sewn into the chassis, more towards the rear end of the car which helps balance out the XE, giving it a near 50:50 weight distribution. There is also the new suspension setup which is lot more complex than ever before. First off, it uses aluminium generously which reduces unsprung weight. Then the front goes with a double wishbone setup while the rear uses an integral link which is a derivative of what is used on the Range Rover. The integral link ensures lateral forces are taken care off thoroughly, thereby ensuring a superb handling character. It also ensures vertical forces are damped adequately to take care of the ride quality. Jaguar's intentions were to strike a balance in the XE. between the BMW 3 Series' stiffness and the Mercedes C-Class' softness and this has been achieved superbly. You will sense the stiffness in this package but it's never uncomfortable. What's more impressive though are the taut dynamic abilities of the XE. It's interesting that Jaguar has gone with this more expensive suspension setup to future proof this car since in a short time, there will also be an all-wheel-drive version of the XE.
Dial in a new electronically assisted (EPAS) steering system which is the first for a Jaguar sedan and which is probably one of the best I have ever experienced so far. It's a highly progressive steering system with the right amount of precision, weight and directness you need to enhance the dynamics. And if the standard suspension isn't to your liking, tick the box for adaptive suspension in the options list. The adaptive dampers give the XE a whole new level of composure and control, which mated to either diesel or petrol powertrains will definitely make this one of the best drivers entry premium sedan in the market.
The XE appears to be impressive but can it take on the Germans?
I'd like to think the XE is better than almost everything out there but we'd need to test this car back to back with the A4, C-Class and the 3 Series to reach a more concrete conclusion. However, my initial impressions indicate that this is definitely a better driver's car than any of the Germans. In fact, Jaguar has almost lost out on its British-ness by making a car that's more German in almost every respect. Now is that a good thing? Probably not, but it's what Jaguar needs to take on the big three in one of the toughest segments on the planet.
So it's safe to buy the XE then?
Don't buy the car because you want a good car. Buy it because you like driving. The XE will fill that spot in your heart, the one which makes you happy when you know you are going to drive to work in your XE. Of course, in India, the fate of the XE will be determined by its price and Jaguar's brand image and network. Its success will not be attributed to the abilities of the car alone. And that's the only dreadful part I can think of.
Would I buy one?
In a heartbeat. Except I'd opt for the XE 2.0-litre petrol R-Sport with the adaptive dampers. It's a brilliant car with the potential to open up a whole new world for Jaguar, just like it's opened up a whole new world for those looking for it.
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Team OD | 17 Jan 2018
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